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Second Adrian Leftwich Memorial Lecture

photo of Naomi Hossain

Wednesday 5 October 2022, 2.00PM to 3.30 PM

Speaker(s): Naomi Hossain

The moral economy of the global crowd: the popular politics of economic crises

Democracy is reportedly in its death throes and political polarization is ripping societies apart, but large areas of popular political consensus still surface periodically. Already this short 21st century has seen massive, consequential movements against rising costs of living and price spikes in everyday basics. People have protested across the world, in rich and poor countries, in democracies and authoritarian systems. Each protest enacts a shared belief that governments are responsible for protecting everyday life from the shocks to which global capitalism is prone, and that their legitimacy depends on their actions. Following EP Thompson, the great social historian of capitalist transformation, I think of these ideas as ‘the moral economy’, because they define ethical limits to market forces. Contemporary moral economy thinking is not notably radical or overtly anti-capitalist, but it does make a political diagnosis: corrupt elites collude to create crises of subsistence, and to prevent their resolution in ways that benefit
the majority. Most of these protest episodes do little more than hold governments to a rough kind of account, or reaffirm popular principles about how the economy ought to be run. But governments and regimes have also fallen in their wake, which have birthed new movements on both right and left. Development studies typically fails to help us make sense of such periods of global protest, reducing them to the angry rebellion of hungry people individually stimulated by relative price changes. This lecture will analyze cost-of-living protests as properly political acts, varied in their specifics and contexts,
but driven by common principles regarding the basic right to protections of everyday life. The lecture will argue that the distractions of high-level political drama aside, the global crowd is more united than it is divided on the political question of how to respond to economic crisis.

Naomi Hossain Bio
Naomi Hossain is a political sociologist and Research Professor at the Accountability Research Center at the School of International Service at American University. She researches the politics of inclusive development and how people get the public services they need, and has written about elite perceptions of poverty, food and fuel riots, disaster (including pandemic) politics, workers’ rights, women’s empowerment and the role of civil society in development, among other issues.

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Location: Online (Room D/N/056 will be linked in to the meeting)

Admission: Free, must register